I have found in my 35-year career mostly doing project management work that the company you work for is only as accepting as the people who make it up. When I have experienced a supporting atmosphere for my bipolar illness (which is extremely rare), my mentor or my boss has come from a place where mental illness was in their family. One a husband, one an aunt. This was volunteered information to me from them. I find the ability of the workplace to be supportive is in direct correlation to the boss or mentor having first-hand experience with mental illness. For all intents and purposes, the individual and not the company is the determinant of a supportive environment for working with a mental health condition.
It should not be this way. The company as a unit in and of itself should be able to show understanding and support for mental health challenges particularly with such advances as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In my experience, the company is more prone to act out of fear or out of ignorance and assume someone with a mental health condition is dangerous to themselves and to others around them. There is a tendency to criminalize people with mental health diagnoses in the workplace when that mental health diagnosis is exposed.
Not uncommon is the ushering out of the office by building security when the mental illness surfaces. Is this ever done when you have diabetes? Or a brain tumor? Or cancer? No, you are not humiliated and meant to feel you are criminal just for being ill. These other illnesses are accepted as part of the risk profile for managing employees. People are given support for their illness by co-workers and by management for these other non-mental illness profiles, while for mental illness profiles the employee is considered an immediate and unsurmountable threat and treated as a criminal.
Again, I would hope in the US the Americans with Disabilities Act would change this criminalization of people with mental health diagnoses in the workplace, but in my experience it has not. That sounds out as a sad state of affairs for employment for people with mental health diagnoses.
Have you ever been treated poorly at the office because of a mental health diagnosis or break-through event? Have you ever been treated well for the same? What causes some employers to act in a way that is supportive and others not?
3 thoughts on “Stigma Resistance and Existence in the Project Management Workplace:”
I had almost entirely positive responses from colleagues on my level, and a number of people self-disclosed their own mental health issues to me after I was open about my own. Management and HR were a totally different story, and they seemed to be fixated on the idea that I posed a risk. It seemed to be a combination of bad attitudes among individual managers and a broader organizational aversion to mental illness in the mental health care workforce.
While I am disappointed for you that Management and HR were not supportive of you at a time you most needed support, it doesn’t surprise me based on my own experience. It is particularly disappointing for you that the management and HR departments that did not support you were in the mental health care workforce. As you and I have talked in the past, the stigma associated with mental illness means most people with an active mental health concern are going to be treated as a risk to the company’s well-being at best and maybe even criminalized at worse. Again, I harken back to examples of other illnesses in the workplace. You would not be ushered out of your job by security personnel or treated as less than if you had diabetes, a brain tumor or cancer. Why is mental health different?
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Here are some stats from the UK. Sorry I am having trouble making the source an active link. My bad.
1. Up to 300,000 people with mental health problems lose their jobs each year
This is much higher than the rate of job loss among those with a physical health problem. An article by the BBC cited the example of one worker who, after telling her boss about her depression, became the subject of office gossip. After several anxious months, she left.